Sunday, September 29, 2013

the price of not listening to God

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The parable in our Gospel reading is that of the rich man and Lazarus, also known as the parable of Dives and Lazarus. I know that people sometimes wonder why the rich man is also referred to as Dives, and the answer to that is simple: the Latin for 'a rich man' is Dives and of course the Bible in Latin as translated by St Jerome was the standard text in the Western Church for over 1000 years and when the Bible was being translated into English the name Dives was held onto …

It is a much loved parable and rightly so … but there is also a danger of that it might make people feel a little smug about themselves … Dives is rich and goes to hell … and we hear so many other places in scripture of the spiritual dangers that accompany being rich and powerful … our epistle reading today, for example, warns of the particular threat that material wealth can carry for a person's immortal soul … and most of us of course are neither rich nor powerful … and so we may look on the plight of Dives with a degree of complacency … the warnings of this parable are for other people, those few with great wealth and influence in the world … not for ordinary folk like us …

Which is why it is important to remember that Dives did not go to hell for being rich and powerful … any more than Lazarus went to heaven solely for being poor … as you may remember my saying before, the poverty of an evil man does not make him virtuous in God's eyes … any more than does the wealth of a good man automatically damn him … And if we read the text attentively, we will see that this is made clear in the parable: Dives is not suffering the torments of hell because he is rich, but rather because he has failed to listen to the voice of God during his life, as revealed in the words of Sacred Scripture, and to live out the commands given there to all men during his life. 

Dives realises this too late, when he is in torment … he cries out for help to father Abraham, but nothing can be done: once one has died and gone to their reward, nothing can be changed. Dives knows at this point that he has been judged and found wanting … judged for not following 'Moses and the Prophets' while he was alive. Moses, you may recall, was held to be the author of the first five books of the Bible, those which are often called the Pentateuch …. it is these books, along with those of the prophets – the bulk of the Old Testament, in fact – where God's moral law is laid out.

Dives recognises that the way he lived on earth has determined where he will spend eternity … and he begs Abraham to send
Lazarus back to warn his five brothers. He knows that they do not know live as they should … their lives must be very much as his was … and they can be saved from the same fate as him if only they will mend their ways. He asks that they be warned that hell is real … if only they will believe that, he thinks, then they will be spared sharing his damnation … but Abraham replies that they have the moral law to guide them, the Law and the Prophets … Dives thinks they need more than that … they need a personal messenger sent to them from heaven that will lead them to repentance … but Abraham replies that if God's word is not enough for them, then someone rising from the dead will add nothing … 

Ironic, of course, when we know that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead for us … but then, what does it matter to each of us as individuals that Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead to assure us of his promise of eternal life if we will not also repent and live according to God's Holy Law?

As it says elsewhere in scripture 'not everyone who cries 'Lord, Lord 'will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.' Dives was judged not for his wealth but for his failure to obey the divine law … and we, wealthy or poor or somewhere in between, will be judged according to the same standard. You know what that standard is: to do the will of Christ's father in heaven … the will he has revealed to us in so many ways … particularly in Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Church Christ founded … I pray that you will study these diligently all the days of your life, and live accordingly … and I ask that you pray the same for me. In Jesus name, Amen.

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